Millions Said To Be Missing in Pledged Donations to Syrian Refugee Education

Millions of dollars in international aid pledged to support education for Syrian refugee children either did not reach them, arrived late, or could not be accounted for, according to a report by Human Rights Watch.

Released last week, the report tracks education aid pledges made by six major donors — the European Union, the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Japan, and Norway — at the 2016 London conference. The money was meant to jump-start refugee education programs in the countries hosting the highest number of Syrian refugees: Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey.

Researchers found that countries’ reporting practices made it nearly impossible to understand exactly how much money had reached the appropriate recipient and that there were massive gaps between the amount of money pledged and the amount of money host countries received.

“The more we researched, the more we realized that it’s almost impossible to figure out basic information — how much money from a given donor actually reaches recipients in a given host country,” said Bill van Esveld, a researcher at Human Rights Watch (HRW) based in Erbil, Iraq.

For instance, the six donor countries pledged to provide $250 million for education in Jordan before the start of the 2016 school year. However, by September 2016, only $79 million had been received. Similar discrepancies existed in funding for Lebanese and Turkish education programs: Lebanon had a $181 million shortfall, while Turkey was shy $137 million.

Specifically, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) reported that it had provided $248 million for educational development programs in Jordan for fiscal year 2016, but its own aid tracking database only accounted for $82 million in “basic education” funding during the same time period. In turn, HRW reported that a Jordanian government database only noted $13 million in U.S. aid during the 2016 calendar year. (That data has since been removed from the Jordanian website.)

USAID told Foreign Policy that it had met all its London commitments for aid in the Syrian crisis, including doling out $290 million for education assistance to Jordan and Lebanon. The agency stressed that it “reports detailed financial information on all of its development and humanitarian programs worldwide.”

The other countries and multilateral organizations surveyed in the report had equally mixed reporting records. The U.K. and Norway provided a relatively complete picture of their funding, while Japan provided what HRW termed “so little public information … that it is impossible to determine when this aid was delivered or what it supported.”

The Japanese Embassy in Washington, D.C., was unavailable for comment at the time of publication.

The report was careful not to ascribe the apparently contradictory numbers to corruption or malfeasance — indeed, “corruption” only shows up once in the entire report — while discussing a Transparency International report noting that many donors were unwilling to deal directly with the Lebanese government because of corruption concerns.

But lax reporting and accounting practices pose serious problems for both donors and recipients, not to mention the schoolchildren the money is meant to help educate.

As a school administrator, “how can you run an education program and plan it if you’re told you’ll be getting one amount, and the recipient says they’re getting another?” Esveld said. “How can you plan a multi-year education response if you don’t know how much money you’re going to be getting?”

This situation has direct consequences for children on the ground in the countries bearing the brunt of the refugee crisis.

In a separate release on Sunday, Save the Children reported that roughly 730,000 children — 43 percent of school-aged refugees — in Jordan, Turkey, and Lebanon were not currently getting any schooling at all. That’s up from 34 percent last year.

Photo credit: Kutluhan Cucel/Getty Images

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